Paris, France. Romantic. Lovely. Quaint. Delicious. Eiffel Tower. The Mona Lisa. Are these the words and images that come to mind when you hear the word Paris? They used to be for me, too. But I have since decided that it only lives up to these expectations if you do Paris right. a.k.a. In a fancy hotel, with a driver to chauffer you to all the sights, a fantastic camera to be able to capture the most monumental sights you've ever seen, and plenty of money to spend on the ridiculously overpriced (but totally worth it) crepes. If you do Paris wrong--a.k.a. In a sketchy cheap hotel, taking the underground everywhere, in the pouring, freezing rain with just a light jacket, and with no one to protect you but the other two girls you're with--it can be incredibly dangerous and scary.
I don't think I've ever had the experience of feeling utterly and completely hopeless and then experiencing the mercy of God and falling to my knees in gratitude--until Paris.
It started on our last day in Paris--Bastille Day. This is the high holy day in French culture--therefore EVERYTHING is closed. All things except the Louvre, Notre Dame, Saint Chapelle, and other famous sights, that is. We woke up early to more pouring rain (after three consecutive days) and started on our way to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa, of course (how could you not?). We had to check out of our hotel early that morning, so we were all carrying our backpacks, side satchels, and suitcases on wheels. We hopped on the metropolitan (underground) by our hotel after a quick breakfast of cheap fruit off the vendors on the streets--Delicious!! (And it was a very Beauty and the Beast experience--"Bonjour! Bonjour! Bonjour, Bonjour, Bonjour!") We were in high spirits as we would be returning to our beloved clean and safe London that afternoon. (I wish I could say dry, too, but no...) After our first stop off the metropolitan I realized I had forgotten my purse. I turned to run back on just in time to see the doors close and watch the train speed off. I may or may not have uttered a profanity under my breath at this point. You see, my purse didn't just hold my makeup or loose change. I was a classic tourist and had my passport, wallet, and camera in there as well. Obviously my camera was not such a big deal, but it added insult to injury, and can you blame me for catastrophizing everything at that moment?
Now, I don't know if the trauma of the situation is clear yet. See, we were in France--meaning no one speaks English, everyone hates Americans, and they have absolutely no concept of customer service. We ran to the nearest Metro station with a lady inside. We started gesturing and explaining, but before she listened to a full sentence she abruptly stated "Speak French." And slammed the window shut. At this point I completely broke into tears (I mean...uncontrollable sobs). Without my passport I couldn't get into London that afternoon because I couldn't make it through security. And I did NOT want to spend an extra night or two in Paris--alone. On top of this, none of our phones worked because apparently AT&T doesn't provide service in France! Who knew?
Anyway, once I started crying, the lady came back and started speaking to us in English (classic...) and asked what was wrong. She checked the trains on the phone and no one had turned in a purse. At this point she was sure to tell us that Bastille Day is the day thieves travel to Paris specifically to pick over the tourists. She told me there was no hope and I should just begin trying to get new documents. So we needed to find Wi-Fi to use our iMessages or Skype to get ahold of our directors in London to see if they could help us with the US Embassy. We walked the streets of Paris searching for a cafe with Wi-Fi, but everything was closed because of Bastille Day of course. Just my luck. I was completely catatonic at this point but Suzette (my friend) decided we needed to stop in the middle of the street and say a prayer right then. I believe I rolled my eyes at this point and thought something to the effect of, "Seriously?! A prayer?? Pretty sure a prayer isn't going to bring my passport and wallet back to me! How about we just keep looking for wi-fi so we can talk to the US EMBASSY!!" But, of course, that was all in my head, so we said the most sincere prayer we have probably uttered in our lives up to that point praying that by some miracle things would work out. (We didn't have the gumption to ask that I'd actually get my purse back.)
We ended the prayer and I felt this incredible sense of relief wash over me. I'll never forget it. In such a panic, it was a 180 degree turn around. We then calmly walked about a block and ran into a cafe with free Wi-Fi with and English speaking, wonderfully generous server who let us stay as long as we needed to figure things out. I don't know if you can appreciate the miracle of this unless you've been to a foreign country where they really hate Americans, but running into her was a miracle in and of itself. Not to mention the contact we could make with our instructors over Skype, her getting ahold of the American Embassy and translating with the operators for us, and her giving us contact info in case we needed her help or to come back later to use the internet again.
At this point we had eaten crepes, had water, and spoken to our instructors--we had a plan, and were feeling much better. The embassy was closed, unfortunately, because apparently we celebrate Bastille Day (what?) even though we're American. So I couldn't get new documents until 2 days later at the earliest. So we were going to try to go to the EuroStar station to try to see if they'd let me back to London without my passport by any chance because I was with my study group (kind of). We went, and it was no go. They told me to change my ticket for 3 days later so as I went to do so, the lady opened up my ticket and said "Wait, there's a note on here. Someone found your purse and it's at a police station..." My jaw dropped about 3 feet and I said, "Shut Up." She was affronted. Woops. She then proceeded to explain how to get to the police station while I wiped my eyes and silently prayed a million thank you prayers in my head.
We headed to the police station in the scariest part of Paris and when we got there we realized we were in seriously dangerous territory. Homeless people were all over the streets, they followed us three well-dressed white girls like hawks as we walked very purposefully towards a the police station (in reality, we had no idea which way to go...no one spoke English!). By some miracle we found the station and as soon as we opened the door they held up my purse and said "Eeeyyy! We have your purse!" I was so relieved I started sobbing again. I just had to sit down I was so light-headed so Suzette took it from there. She asked them how my purse had ended up there, and they said a nice couple on the metro had seen us get off that morning so they grabbed my purse and turned it in on their stop. It was unbelievable. In such a dangerous, dark, scary city, the honesty and good will of this kind couple will never be forgotten. I couldn't believe it. It was a miracle like I've never experienced. I was so grateful for these people's honesty. Everything was in my purse when I opened it. Cash, credit cards, license, passport. Everything. In Paris. On Bastille Day. I have no doubt Heavenly Father had sent these people to be my angels that day.
We still had time to make it to Notre Dame, Saint Chapelle, The Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower one last time before we had to head home and it was the first day of sun in Paris. Such an incredible ending to what could have been the worst day of my life. I was so grateful to my loving Heavenly Father for watching over us that day. And for forgiving my stupidity ;)
P.S. I didn't tell Dave about this until I was safe in London and I told just about this exact rendition. He was pale as a ghost when I finished and couldn't breathe properly for about 5 minutes after. Luckily, he was able to overlook this crazy error on my part and still marry me :)